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Asia Location and City Branding

Branding a nation, location or city in Asia is not just advertising. AsiaPac cities must develop a global reputation of creating and adding value and yet concurrently command emotional resonance as part of their unique selling proposition. Those which do not invest enough to build the relevant and visible brand equity will not be effective to attract investors, businesses, tourists or new talent-residents.

In an increasingly-networked world, news of US economic slowdowns can immediately affect Asian economies. Likewise, news of a country leader being assassinated like Pakistan’s Bhutto can undermine investor sentiment overnight. Asian country, city or location marketing is thus dynamic and not static. In locations which constantly experience great uncertainty and investor perceptions of high risks, investment promotion agencies and city council managers can no longer depend on their static, annually-developed Asian FDI strategy. Like stock market value, Asian locations’ brand value can literally be wiped off overnight since value includes an investor’s knowledge, feelings and perceptions about a location.

Also, more independent third parties are giving out more category awards, lending to the already-complex country brand management in Asia with over 600,000 communities. It is highly conceivable that global investors will one day face ‘country award or rating fatigue’ syndrome. When a location potentially showcases its 9 awards won from 6 different third parties, much like how a dining outlet brandishes its awards in front of potential diners, the potential new investor will tend to devalue such ratings and awards and hence the country branding or marketing may lose some effectiveness to attract new investments.

How then does an Asian country marketer market and brand its location more effectively in such times of quick change? Some elements of location or place marketing techniques can be considered.

The bigger tier 1 AsiaPac countries, being less prone to changes and are more stable, can adopt an umbrella brand with consistent messaging. Locations with a national leader who enjoys a positive image can still use the classical top-down, brand-building strategies and usual marketing management like clarifying unity of purpose of sub locations, establishing SMART objectives, giving of authority over inputs and sending country marketers to receive marketing techniques.

Smaller tier 2 or even 3 AsiaPac countries can explore a niche branding or cultural branding strategy consulting marketplace and citizen opinion leaders in wholistic overview when developing a marketing campaign.

All locations can benefit by using more Internet or website marketing since this can quickly capture external changes and reach out to a wider audience at lesser cost compared to print or TV advertising. In most of our AsiaPac investment promotion consulting for foreign governments, some AsiaPac locations or city councils do not even have English websites or accessible email addresses or contact details. It is a pity that the lack of attention to such minor details can result in reduced location awareness, contact and needed FDI.

A location marketer must also know how to choose and use a brand consultancy, since most of these brand consultancies are competent in branding only products for their corporate clients. Their location branding usually do not form part of an overall investment promotion expertise unlike dedicated investment promotion consultancies with investor lead generation, investor retention after-care and relationship building services.

All AsiaPac location marketers must accept that they are not product marketers who enjoy a greater degree of internal control. Unlike a product which can be easily modified or withdrawn from the market, a location may suffer from long-term image problems arising from structural problems which can take years to address. For such cases, continuously working with private investment promoters in investor lead generation and engaging in direct marketing may be the best ways for location marketers to attract new investments while giving good after-care and continuous monitoring and evaluation to retain or expand existing investments.

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Very interesting. Location marketers are important as often I see people in U.S. and Western Europe not understanding the clear differences between locations and often basing their ideas on past preconceptions. However, there is so much change happening in Asia countries and cities must promote their current value and image.

Lawrence Yeo

Yes, Steve. In Asia, we have so much potential Asian companies wanting to invest in North American locations but the choice range is staggeringly huge. As such, most opt for first-impression and easy-to-recall locations in the East and West but totally omit the mid and Southern states (and provinces in Canada). North American location marketers should re-evaluate their economic development policy of branding their location attractiveness to Asian investors and reduce the North-American geocentric focus when and if they decide to look to the East for investments and FDI. Asia as a region has been relatively effective in attracting FDI with its consistent ‘low-cost, high educated workforce, good incentives’ messaging, given that almost half of 2008 inbound FDI goes to Asia.